As the sun had gone down the stars had come out, and soon the only thing Tisha could watch was the sky. She’d lived in LA her entire life, and a sky full of stars was just something her country bumpkin cousins in muddy boots and torn overalls would brag about to make themselves feel better about not living in civilization. But they had been right. She didn’t have any words for it, not for what it looked like or for what it made her feel. Every time she tried to count she’d get dizzy and giggle. The wine didn’t help. Or the way she turned in slow circles on the pool float shaped like an avocado.
From behind her came small splashes. Sammy getting into the water with the same kind of confidence she did everything with. Like if she just showed the water who was boss it wouldn’t be freezing. And why not? It worked for everything else. She had gotten the lifeguard job at the beach, the rent decreased on their apartment, and countless free drinks that way. She had gotten Tisha that way.
“You’re looking at the wrong thing.” Sammy’s voice was a low murmur right in Tisha’s ear. She had crossed the pool quicker than somebody who didn’t know Sammy would have thought possible and now had her arms on the edge of the float, holding herself up. Tisha could imagine the graceful way her legs must have looked under the water, toes pointed like a ballerina. She could feel the cold coming off her arms in waves.
“I’ve never seen stars like this before,” Tisha said, still looking up. “I guess my cousins were right, only jokes on them. I didn’t have to leave LA to see it.”
Sammy was quiet, and Tisha wished she could take it back. Sammy had had a wonderful idea, and Tisha’s big mouth was ruining it.
They had dreamed of living in one of these houses. Back in those middle days of dating, when they were calling each other girlfriend but still had no answers when people asked about their future, they would spend hours in the bookstore. They’d flip through all the magazines about Los Angeles and architecture, and if they found something on one of these houses – and they almost always did – they’d quietly rip out the pages and tuck them into Tisha’s big bag. They didn’t have the money to buy the magazines, especially not after the overpriced coffees. They’d take the pictures home and tell each other stories of living in those houses. Always the rectangular modern ones, with windows for all the walls and an infinity pool over the city.
At first, they had been evacuating the city to the north, with everyone else. It had been slow because no one had really known what they were supposed to be doing and everyone had been on edge, waiting for it to happen again. Then Sammy had gotten that look in her eye, and when Tisha had followed her gaze up the hill she knew what Sammy was thinking. It had been surprisingly easy to slip away from the crowd. The Guardsmen ushering them up the streets had looked as scared as everyone else, and Sammy had just done her thing. Arms around each other, they had ducked down a side street and walked away like they knew what they were doing. And, well, didn’t they?
All of the houses on the hill were empty by the time they’d gotten up there. Power was out, too, so they’d climbed over the security fence without fear, the only sound their laughter. All their talk of just riding it out here stopped at the first aftershock. These houses in the hills may look down on the city, but they were still a part of it, and everything shook just the same as it had at their one room apartment. The way the house had swayed, Sammy wasn’t sure it would last too much longer. Tisha wondered how far down the hill it would slide.
“Why ain’t the shaking stopped yet, you think?” Tisha asked.
Sammy shrugged her shoulders. “The scientists don’t know, you think I’ll have the answers?”
“I think you think you have the answers,” Tisha said.
“Oh, yeah?” Sammy leaned forward on the avocado float, making her side dip dangerously close to the water.
“Don’t you dunk me,” Tisha said, trying to pull back.
The pressure on the float released as Sammy took her arms off. Tisha barely had a second to believe she was just going to swim away before the same side of the float was hoisted into the air. Flailing as though she could keep her balance and stay in the air, her arms and legs hit the water with individual smacks. Her half screamed ‘no!’ was cut off and then she was completely underwater, bubbles rising up from her still open mouth. They had floated to the shallow side of the pool, and her feet found the smooth surface quickly. She pushed with all her strength and rocketed to a standing position, gasping as her face found the air again. Instantly she was shivering, and she clutched her bare sides as she looked for the traitor.
“What the hell were-”
She stopped, although her teeth kept chattering. Sammy was just a couple feet away, standing easily like the water heater was still working. The infinite amount of stars above cast enough light to make the little diamond at the top of the ring Sammy was holding shine.
“You know what that is,” Sammy said. She glanced over her shoulder, at Los Angeles, and then back to Tisha. “I don’t know what happens next, Tisha. I don’t know where we’re going to go. The only thing I know is you.”
Tisha thought about saying something funny, like, you just don’t want me to kill you for flipping me. But is that how she wanted to remember the night the love of her life finally proposed? And anyway, she was a crying, teeth-chattering mess, and all she could do was nod her head and put her hand out so Sammy could slip the ring on. Sammy was shaking, too, and Tisha knew it wasn’t the water.
Later, when they were done with the crying and the kissing, they sat at the edge of the water and held each other. Tisha didn’t know where they’d get married, but she could picture the cream colored dress she’d wear down to the pattern of the lace. Sammy kicked at the water and stroked her hair, and below them the fires of Los Angeles twinkled like the endless stars above.
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